When a Tree Falls
By Diane Tait
|Image courtesy flickr|
I’m just about done picking up the fallen tree limbs after Hurricane Dorian passed by. It reminded me of how lucky we in north Florida were that the storm was far enough offshore that the wind didn’t do more damage. I can still remember the damage Hurricanes Matthew and Irma inflicted when they came through town. So, I thought I’d take a few moments to cover what to do when the next named storm puts Jacksonville in the crosshairs and trees in your neighborhood take a tumble.
1. Into every life a little rain must fall. – Whoever coined that phrase has obviously never been to Florida. There’s nothing little about the rain and the wind in the Sunshine State. (Did you know that falling trees kill more people in Florida than lightning?) While named storms are responsible for billions of dollars in damage when they roar through Florida, that doesn’t mean it takes a hurricane to cause a mighty oak to crash down on your home, shed, fence or car. Any passing thunderstorm possesses power enough to fell a tree. Should a tree comes crashing down on your property, the first priority is to make sure that it doesn’t pose a threat to you or your family. That means taking care to make sure that the tree didn’t take out an electrical line when it came crashing down. If it did, there’s a possibility of electrocution. Other threats that some trees harbor can include wild animals or a beehive contained in hollow trunks. Before you run outside to check on the damage a fallen tree has caused, take the time to make sure that there aren’t any other hazards that were created. More importantly, do not attempt to rectify the situation on your own. Only professional tree surgeons have the experience and the equipment to safely remove a fallen tree. Trying to remove a fallen tree on your own is not only dangerous, it risks creating more damage which may not be covered by your insurance policy.
2. Who’s it going to hurt? – If anyone was injured or killed by a fallen tree, the first priority is to dial 911 to get the proper emergency assistance. After that, the next step is damage control. If the damage to your home is such that you are forced to leave, make sure you secure your residence to discourage looters. This could mean doing nothing more than boarding up broken windows and covering any holes with a tarp, or it could mean removing all your valuables to a more secure location. You should also turn off the power, the water and the gas before evacuating your property. This way if the fallen tree does more damage, you will have done your part to limit its severity.
|Image courtesy flickr|
4. What if one of your trees falls on your neighbor’s property? – While damage done to a neighboring property doesn’t make you liable, you should still take the time to document the damage and report it to your insurance company. While your neighbor may not be happy about it, their homeowner’s insurance is there to cover the damage. The rules are such that when a tree falls, the property owner of the damaged property can use their windstorm coverage, dwelling coverage or other structures coverage to pay to make their home whole again, regardless of where the tree that did the damage was located. If your tree fell on their car, the comprehensive portion of their insurance policy should pay for the damage. If your neighbor tells you otherwise, put them in touch with your insurance agent, rather than trying to explain it to them yourself.
|Image courtesy of USCG|
5. What if your neighbor’s tree falls on your property? – While your homeowner’s insurance should pay for any damage done to your property by a neighboring tree (Minus your deductible), there is one thing you need to be made aware. If the tree that did the damage was decrepit or diseased and you did nothing to express your concerns to your neighbor, your insurance company may try to deny the claim. If, on the other hand, you expressed your concerns to your neighbor about the ill-fated tree in writing, and/or paid to have the sickly tree evaluated by a professional tree surgeon, this will put you in a better position to have your insurance company argue your neighbor’s negligence in the event you file a claim.
6. What other factors do you need to be aware of when it comes to fallen trees? – Just as you need to keep the health of neighboring trees in mind, you also need to make sure the trees on your property are not sickly, rotting or leaning if you want to make sure your claim isn’t denied in the future. Like it or not, your insurance company isn’t going to accept the responsibility for damage caused by your negligence to properly maintain your property. Failure to keep your trees in good repair could also come to haunt you if your sickly tree should fall onto a neighboring property. Better to pay to have your trees pruned every few years than to wind up being served with a lawsuit at some future date.
Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance. To find out more about how you can save money on home owner’s insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.